What causes Mrs. van Daan to become hysterical in The Diary of Anne Frank?

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Throughout Anne Frank’s diary, it is eminently clear that if there is one individual in particular Anne does not like, it is Mrs. van Daan. As the war and the diary progress, the relationship between the young teenaged Anne and Mrs. van Daan becomes a little more nuanced. However, the...

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Throughout Anne Frank’s diary, it is eminently clear that if there is one individual in particular Anne does not like, it is Mrs. van Daan. As the war and the diary progress, the relationship between the young teenaged Anne and Mrs. van Daan becomes a little more nuanced. However, the older woman (and mother of Peter) is the most temperamentally ill-suited to the task of hiding in cramped quarters with the German Army surrounding them, ready to dispatch any and all Jewish residents they find to concentration camps.

Anne’s descriptions of Mrs. van Daan are consistently negative, as when she describes her as “unbearable,” “exceedingly pushy, egotistical, cunning, calculating and perpetually dissatisfied,” and “thoroughly despicable.” It is little surprise, then, that it is Mrs. van Daan who Anne depicts as the least emotionally stable when the threat of discovery by the Germans or by Dutch collaborators is greatest.

In Anne’s diary, there are two instances in particular in which she describes Mrs. van Daan’s behavior as bordering on hysterics, and both instances involve risks of discovery and death. Air raids during which Allied bombers targeted German installations or positions in or near Amsterdam would be a natural cause of concern on the part of innocent people hiding from the occupying authorities. It is during one such air raid that Anne describes Mrs. van Daan as being especially frightened:

We just had a third air raid. I decided to grit my teeth and practice being courageous. Mrs. van Daan, the one who always said, "Let them fall" and "Better to end with a bang than not to end at all," is the most cowardly among us. She was shaking like a leaf this morning and even burst into tears.

A second instance in which Anne describes a badly shaken Mrs. van Daan occurs, unsurprisingly, in the context of the fear of visits to the house in which the Franks and others have taken refuge from the German Gestapo and the Dutch Security Police (who were working with the German authorities). Anne’s diary entry from Tuesday, April 11, 1944, describes the atmosphere in the hidden annex when the police are in the neighborhood. Fears of discovery, including of the diary, are heightened:

This and the police rattling on the bookcase were the moments when I was most afraid. Oh, not my diary; if my diary goes, I go too!...I comforted Mrs. van Daan, who was very frightened. We talked about escaping, being interrogated by the Gestapo, phoning Mr. Kleiman and being courageous.

Mrs. van Daan was undoubtedly an annoying figure with whom to be forced into hiding in such a confined space for years with the threat of discovery, torture, and death never far away. That she should have been hysterical on occasion would only be natural, even when others did a better job of maintaining control. The group’s eventual discovery and imprisonment and, in most cases, death under the worst conditions imaginable, would certainly seem to validate those fears.

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